(Provided by Ann Vasaly [FAAR 1983, RAAR 2010])
Eleanor Winsor Leach (1937-2018)
On February 19th it was learned that Eleanor Winsor Leach, Ruth N. Halls Professor of Classics at Indiana University, had passed away at the age of 80. At the suggestion of Brian Rose, I wanted to take the opportunity to write to the Advisory Council of the important role she played in her chosen profession and her devotion throughout her career to the American Academy.
Let me begin with Ellie’s contribution to scholarship. Aside from the sheer quantity of her work (three books published, with a fourth book recently completed, more than 50 articles, more than 100 lectures), one is struck by its coherence. Beginning with her Yale dissertation on Ovid and Chaucer, she always displayed a strong interdisciplinary bent, seeking to read Latin texts, especially poetry of the Augustan period, against their contemporary social, political, and cultural background. Her subtle analyses of an astonishing range of Latin authors led to new ways of looking at literary texts—at once closely tied to particular authors, yet at the same time reflecting in complex ways various aspects of a broader cultural mentalité. Starting in the 1980’s, Ellie also began to integrate the study of Roman painting, monuments, and topography into her work on ancient literature, bringing insights to visual narrativity in particular that complemented her explorations of textual narrative. While she eventually won widespread acceptance as a leading exponent of form and meaning in these fields, I well remember a time when courage and persistence were required for her to continue these studies, as she met a good deal of resistance from some established figures in the field. Ellie was thus a scholar of extraordinary commitment and talent, who created over the course of her career a remarkable body of work as well as an extensive network of scholars, young and old, with whom she communicated, since her passion for scholarship made her eager to share her own ideas and hear those of others.
While many scholars of correspondingly high stature devote the majority of their time to research and writing, contributing much less extensively to pedagogy, administration, or service to the field, Ellie’s vita includes almost as many lines devoted to the latter areas — including presidency of the Society of Classical Studies (formerly, the American Philological Association) — as those listing her publications. While raising a daughter, teaching a diverse range of courses, chairing her department for an extended period (1975-1985), and serving her university and the profession in a wide variety of leadership roles, she directed more than twenty dissertations, wrote letters for some 200 tenure and promotion cases, and refereed more than 100 books and 200 articles for various presses and journals. Her impact, then, on a generation of scholars, especially younger scholars, was extensive, especially reflected by the presence of many of her former students in classics departments throughout the country.
Ellie’s association with, and deep affection for, the Academy goes back many years, beginning with service on the Classical Jury from 1980-1982 and a stay as Resident in Fall of 1983. In subsequent years (1986, 1989, 2008) she conducted three NEH summer seminars at the Academy, which in many cases proved seminal for the work of the students and faculty who took part in them. In recent years she has been a familiar presence at the annual Classical Summer School, frequently accompanying the group on site visits and generously volunteering to give guest lectures on monuments, wall painting, and Roman topography. The Classical Summer School was, in fact, very much on her mind in the last months of her life. As she contemplated the final disposition of her affairs, she decided nothing could give her greater satisfaction than to earmark as a special gift to the CSS a generous sum that had accrued from bonds long ago purchased for her by her parents and which had matured over the course of her lifetime.
It is therefore a solace for those of us who knew and admired her to realize that the impact of her vivid presence and dynamic intelligence will continue to be felt long into the future: through her many publications, her inspiring teaching, her lively conversations, and her generous donation to the Academy.
(Compiled by Matt Christ, with contributions from Ann Vasaly and Teresa Ramsby)
Eleanor Winsor Leach, Ruth N. Halls Professor of Classical Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, died on Friday, February 16, at the age of 80. It was characteristic of her indomitable spirit and absolute commitment to her field that she remained active as teacher and scholar up until the very end of her life. She will be remembered as an innovative scholar, a dedicated teacher and mentor, and a major contributor to her profession.
Ellie was born on August 16, 1937, in Providence, Rhode Island. Although her career ultimately brought her to the Midwest, she remained a New Englander at heart who was undaunted by Bloomington winters as a veteran of many a nor’easter. Her undergraduate years at Bryn Mawr College, where she took her A.B. magna cum laude with honors in Latin in 1959, not only laid the foundation for her future vocation but steeled her to enter a discipline and profession dominated at that time by men; she spoke frequently and fondly of her years at Bryn Mawr, and was a proud and loyal alumna. Ellie went on to earn her Ph.D. in English and Latin at Yale in 1963 with a dissertation on Ovid and Chaucer, which was a precursor of her interdisciplinary bent throughout her career. Ellie went on to teach at Bryn Mawr (1962-66), Villanova University (1966-71), University of Texas at Austin (1972-74), and Wesleyan University (1974-76). In 1977, she moved to Indiana University, Bloomington, as the only tenured woman in the Department of Classical Studies at the time, and soon became chair (1978-1985); later, she served as Director of Graduate Studies for nearly twenty years (1997-2016).
The wide scope of Ellie’s scholarship is attested by the titles of her four books: Vergil's Eclogues: Landscapes of Experience (Ithaca, 1974); The Rhetoric of Space: Literary and Artistic Representations of Landscape in Republican and Augustan Rome
(Princeton, 1988); The Social Life of Painting in Ancient Rome and on the Bay of Naples (Cambridge, 2004); and Epistolary Dialogues: Constructions of Self and Others in the Letters of Cicero and the Younger Pliny (forthcoming with the University of Michigan Press). Ellie sought to read Latin texts against their contemporary social, political, and cultural background. Her subtle analyses of an astonishing range of Latin authors led to new ways of looking at literary texts—at once closely tied to particular authors, yet at the same time reflecting in complex ways various aspects of a broader cultural mentalité. Starting in the 1980’s, Ellie also began to integrate the study of Roman painting, monuments, and topography into her work on ancient literature, bringing insights to visual narrativity in particular that complemented her explorations of textual narrative. While she eventually won widespread acceptance as a leading exponent of form and meaning in these fields, courage and persistence were required for her to continue these studies, as she met a good deal of resistance from some established figures in the field. Ellie set forth her ideas not only through her books but in over fifty articles and over a hundred invited lectures in the US and the UK, including numerous titled lectures. Her original and creative work won her ACLS, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, and many other awards and distinctions.
As teacher and mentor, Ellie had a huge impact on her students, especially on the twenty-six graduate students who wrote dissertations under her guidance at Indiana University. As a classroom instructor, Ellie conveyed her love of ideas, whether in the year-long graduate survey of Latin Literature she taught in alternate years or her introduction to literary criticism for classicists; she encouraged her students to test out new approaches to classical texts, and took great pleasure in the discoveries they made and their pursuit of these in professional papers, dissertations, articles, and books. Her commitment to her students did not stop when they received their degrees, as she supported and mentored them as they pursued their own careers in classics; she regarded her students as part of her extended family, and took great pleasure in hearing of their personal and professional adventures after leaving Indiana University. Ellie’s personal touch was also evident in the way she cultivated a community among graduate students, whom she entertained frequently in her home (her annual celebration of Horace’s birthday was a major event). As one current graduate student put it, “She was just an absolute treasure.”
Ellie’s service to her profession was remarkable. While her contributions to the Society for Classical Studies (formerly, the American Philological Association) culminated in her presidency in 2005, she served it in a wide range of capacities, from fund-raising to membership on the Publications Committee; as Vice-President for the Program Division (1991-94), she helped usher in a new, more open process for members to participate in, and organize panels, for the annual program. She was a trustee of the Vergilian Society (1978-93) and second and then first vice-president of it (1989-92). Ellie’s association with, and deep affection for, the American Academy in Rome, began with service on the Classical Jury (1980-82) and a stay as Resident (Fall 1983). In subsequent years (1986, 1989, 2008) she conducted three NEH summer seminars at the Academy, which in many cases proved seminal for the work of the students and faculty who took part in them; in recent years, she was a familiar presence at the annual Classical Summer School, frequently accompanying the group on site visits and generously volunteering to give guest lectures on monuments, wall painting, and Roman topography. She was active in regional classical associations, especially CAMWS, and closer to home, was a great supporter of the Indiana Classical Conference, and served as president of the central Indiana chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America (1985-87). Less conspicuous, but equally impressive, is the fact that Ellie wrote letters for some 200 tenure and promotion cases, and refereed more than 100 books and 200 articles for various presses and journals.
Although Ellie’s vocation as classicist occupied her seven days a week, she had many other interests and passions. She was an avid reader of literature, ancient and modern; a devotee of NPR (she never owned a TV); a lover of opera (every Saturday afternoon, she listened to the Metropolitan Opera on her radio at her office); and a fan of baseball, which she regarded as a more cerebral sport than football. Ellie loved to travel, especially to Italy, where work and pleasure came together for her almost every summer. Her many students, friends, colleagues, and peers all over the world are very sorry for her passing, and will long remember her. She was a consummate scholar and teacher, and an inspiration to all who knew her. Ellie is survived by her daughter, Harriet, of Louisville, Kentucky, and her former husband, Peter, of St. Louis, Missouri.
Photo 2: "Eleanor Winsor Leach" by Teresa Ramsby, used with permission)